*Disclaimer: This post may difficult to read, especially for survivors of sexual assault. If you are not a survivor, despite it being hard to read, I encourage you to do so. I am choosing to share this information- and level of detail- because I feel it is critical to understanding what sexual assault is and what it does to people.
LET’S TALK ABOUT HARVEY WEINSTEIN. Let’s talk about Donald Trump. Let’s talk about Nelly and Casey Affleck and R. Kelly and the plethora of dirty, perverted, cruel men that are supposed to use their fame for good but instead use it as a power tool to manipulate and abuse women. As a society, we hear about sexual assault and rape in the news on a weekly, if not daily basis, as is obvious from the robust, yet very incomplete list of famous men above. Today alone, I randomly came across an article on BBC about the Islamic State raping, murdering, and holding women captive, as well as an article about a woman subpoenaing Donald Trump for his sexual offenses. But despite it being in our faces all the time, so many people don’t understand the impact it has on society or the sheer number of women who have been assaulted. The one good thing to come of sexual assault being in the news so often is the number of women speaking out, standing up, and fighting back.
Amber Tamblyn is an incredibly brave and fierce advocate for women (obviously I’m a fan), who has openly talked about her ex-boyfriend sexual assaulting her and recently wrote an amazing article for the NYTimes. In addition, I’m sure anyone with a social media account has been overwhelmed by the number of women participating in the #MeToo campaign to bring awareness to sexual assault based off of a movement Tarana Burke started years ago. But this campaign is only comprised of the women who choose to speak out. Many, many more choose- for personal reasons that no one should judge- not to. Even within ourselves, we often silence these traumatic events. It’s hard and it hurts and it’s not only a sensitive subject to the individual, but an unnecessarily taboo subject in larger society.
LET’S ALSO TALK ABOUT WHAT WE NEVER TALK ABOUT- How it feels to be sexually assaulted. As I discussed above, we hear about rape and assault so often we block it out. And even if we weren’t desensitized by the timeless tradition of assaulting and harassing women, we don’t want to think about what sexual assault looks and feels like. I’m choosing to share my personal story with a level of detail I’m not even necessarily comfortable in sharing because I believe the more uncomfortable and outraged other people are, the more likely they are to turn that outrage into action.
After my last blog post I had a friend tell me that, a few years ago, she had been roofied and raped. I was shocked and heartbroken. This beautiful, fierce, and kind soul had been violated in the worst possible way. Since talking to her, I’ve been mulling non-stop over this topic of sexual assault. I think her story affected me so much because I, too, was sexually assaulted. I’ve mentioned it in the blog before, but have steered clear from discussing it in detail because, frankly, I was ashamed. In addition, until communicating with her, I don’t think I fully understood the weight of the fact that I had been sexually assaulted. At first- to survive emotionally- I pretended it didn’t happen. Then the other physical incidents became so constant and traumatic that it fell into the ball pit of abuse and got lost. I hid it deep in my memories behind the daily and very serious threats to my life- behind the punches to the head, the knives to my throat, and the choking until I passed out.
However, after hearing her story, it made its way to the surface…whether I wanted it to or not. Being upset for her and thinking about how violated she must have felt brought back so many things I had been blocking out.
So here it goes.
I WAS SEXUALLY ASSAULTED THREE TIMES IN MY RELATIONSHIP. The first time it happened was the first time he ever physically hurt me. We were laying in bed and once again, he was yelling at me about what a slut I was. I was on my side, facing away from him, apologizing pointlessly as he went on and on. I laid there stiff as a board and could literally feel the tension building in the room, but I didn’t want to risk getting out of bed and leaving, making him more upset. So I stayed laying there and held my breath. He let his jealous rage build, going on and on about past guys I’ve dated.
I don’t know what happened next. I don’t know if he wanted me and I meekly brushed him off or said no, or if it came out of nowhere. All I know is that, in the coldest voice, he said:
“Other guys got it so why can’t I?”
As he said it he grabbed me and spun me around and started ripping off my pants. I fought desperately to hold onto them, even before I had registered what was happening. As I was fighting to keep them up, I yelled over and over again for him to stop. I had begun crying without even realizing it. It didn’t take long. Within a few seconds my pants were off and he had forced his hand inside of me. Immediately, I felt complete and utter devastation. And there was a moment.
There was a moment where my entire body went limp, and this heavy silence settled inside my head, bringing nothing but weakness to my entire body. A moment of simultaneous devastation and acceptance, even as it was still happening.
I was snapped back to reality when he grabbed me and shoved me down again, getting on top of me to choke me. I think I tried to get away and he choked me again…I’m not sure. All I know is that, even in that moment, I didn’t want to hit him to protect myself because I didn’t want to physically hurt him. I tried, but it was weak. The only other way I felt I could fight back in that moment was to spit in his face. Which I did. I don’t remember how it ended except in me sobbing and screaming at him. I packed up my car and almost left, but I had been severely emotionally abused for at least 6 months at this point. I felt it had been partially my fault due to his constant barrage of insults and manipulation and, besides that, he apologized and said it would never happen again.
But it did. Later in our relationship, he did the same thing. Another time, I pretended to pass out so he would leave me alone and stop yelling in my face. Instead, he touched me inappropriately and laughed at himself as he did it. Later, when I confronted him about it, he told me he was drunk and didn’t remember doing it.
Thinking back on these events, I thought of all the other less obvious ways I was sexually abused. How I was intimidated into being intimate with him, sometimes only moments after he had beaten me up. How I felt I could never say no to his advances. How I was intimidated into staying off of birth control. How I was told I was basically a prostitute anyways and so might as well make us some money by whoring myself out. How I was woken up out of a dead sleep and told he had raped me just to see me react, and how I will always have a scar on my knee to remind me of the terror I felt as I was falling out of bed to get away from him. I used to dread these moments, which occurred so, so often, but because they were heavily mixed in with the physical and emotional abuse, I never categorized them as incidences of sexual assault.
WHEN IT COMES DOWN TO IT, ABUSE IS ABOUT CONTROL. But sexual abuse takes control in a different way. This is an important point to me so I’m going to say it- there was nothing other guys “got” that my abuser didn’t. But he would find any excuse to control what he couldn’t- my past- and he used sexual assault as his tool. Why?
Because sexual assault is used a way to control and demean others, to control the most personal and intimate part of themselves.
It doesn’t matter if the perpetrator is famous or an average Joe. Sexual assault is made to make the perpetrator feel more powerful. And in our society where women make up the greatest percentage of sexual assault victims, women are tools to make men feel more powerful. I was recently told by a guy ON A DATE that when guys catcall, its to make girls feel good about themselves and for guys to impress their friends. The desire for power and control can’t get much clearer than that.
Ultimately, the big question I’ve come away from this reflective period with is this: What is it about the human race that has led men of all different socioeconomic statuses, familial backgrounds, races, etc. to think this tool is acceptable? To think women are at their disposal? And it came to me that since it first occurred way back in history, we have allowed it to continue. We have allowed it to become such a significant part of our culture that it manages to be covered up or ignored or even accepted. Since the beginning of time, women have been seen as objects. Why is “raping and pillaging” even a phrase? Why are women raped for gang initiations? Why are girls still being married before they reach their teenage years? It has even crossed over to affect male victims, because this idea of the manly man using sex as a form of power knows no bounds.
At the end of the day, what I want is for it to stop. All of it. And I want you to help me. By standing up and speaking out. By not ignoring claims of abuse or assault. By having conversations with your friends, or raising respectful children, or reaching out to a friend who has been assaulted. By doing one or all of these things or whatever you can.
If I haven’t yet convinced you to help by telling you my story, I ask you to do one thing for me. As you browse your Facebook tonight, I want you to look through your friends list. Count your first 6 female friends. Odds are 1 of them has been raped. (For male friends, its 1 in 9). Keep going. Count the next 6. And the next. I hope you recognize that this doesn’t even include the friends who have experienced other forms of sexual assault like me. I hope you don’t block it out, but imagine what that feeling of utter despair and dread feels like in the pit of your stomach, when you realize your worst nightmare is happening. And then I hope you get up and join me in making a difference.
Photo by Nicholas Quam